There are factors working against the theory the FOX television exposure can lead to pay-per-view buys, namely, the manner the first bout between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez ended as well as the timing of the rematch.
For all the proclaimed linear connectivity between FOX and the growth of pay-per-view, the first fight was a dud. By most casual fan estimations, it was a lot of hype for a lot of nothing. The MMA initiated know a fight's status as main event is no guarantee of fight length or even it's quality relative to the other fights on the card. That, however, is irrelevant. For those tuning in to see what all the UFC fuss was about, the first fight had a decisive if anti-climactic finish. Does that really portend interest in a rematch?
The other challenge is short-term, but real: the timing. The UFC has run ads promoting tonight's event, but doing so through the Christmas holidays means working though a sizable obstacle. Producing fight buzz is about a slow boil and tonight's fights didn't really get started until Wednesday. One can object that UFC fans have had all of December to prepare, but this being the fourth UFC event this month tells us there've been plenty of (pointless?) distractions ahead of time.
Maybe tonight isn't the best test case for the theory behind the FOX value-add. Then again, maybe it is. If the only dividends that can meaningfully be gained happen when there is magic at every stage in the chain of broadcast custody, that tells us about the limits of this relationship. It's no small matter to have UFC on FOX. No one would dispute otherwise. And before we can declare anything, we'll need to see what the pay-per-view returns are. What might be fair to say, though, is the television deal can't correct for bad luck or injured heavyweights or events that don't go right the first time.
Pay-per-view buys derived from fighters or fights initially exposed on FOX have to be purchases made based on the idea that the customer will get again or more than the excitement or entertainment they received the first time. That, generally speaking, will only happen when the first time out on FOX is interesting.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos
At stake: defining one's career. A loss of one's title is no idle concern. I'm sure dos Santos wants nothing more than to prove the first fight was no accident and to keep his title as the world's preeminent heavyweight. For him, tonight is about proving whether he and Velasquez are injured or not, the early knockout in their first meeting was no accident. If he loses, however, it's hardly the end of the world. A rubber match seems likely if not inevitable. And dos Santos needs a rival. For a fighter as good as he is, his star won't be built on pronouncements of eating his opponents' children. It'll be through a catalog of work. But said catalog could certainly be benefited by someone who puts dos Santos through the paces and makes for memorable heavyweight title action.
Velasquez, however, is in a much more dire position. If he loses tonight, he enters a space where his future is defined by being second-best. That's regrettable under any circumstance. It's especially regrettable when you consider he was anointed as the division's future king, only to be derailed in the worst performance of his career under the brightest lights. He hasn't exactly lost that, at least not yet. But it's tenuous. This isn't just about reclaiming what was lost. This is about holding onto what is mostly still intact.
At stake: bonus money? Putting together win streaks matter in the UFC. That's particularly true at lightweight. What's also true, however, is they aren't necessarily a guarantee of much. It has to be the right combination of enough wins against the right guys on the right stages at the right time. So, are there title implications here even if remote? Maybe, but a win here is an accolade to add to the curriculum vitae. A larger body of work needs highlights and stepping stones. This is that.
But given the nature of the match-up - two submission-centric grapplers, albeit with contrasting styles - the possibility for earning a post-fight bonus award isn't a crazy thought. It's hard to predict these things in advance, but the status of the bout with the propensity for a finish and the credibility of the win means earning an extra chunk of cash is a real possibility.
At stake: actual middleweight glory. I'm grouping these two fights together given the position Boetsch and Belcher are in. With no Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva fight on the horizon, it seems plausible that Silva will have to return to defend his title at some point (although in a post-Sonnen vs. Jones, any kind of gerrymandered matchmaking is possible). UFC seems to be eying Michael Bisping vs. Silva, but there's no guarantee the Brit gets past Vitor Belfort. Again, anything is possible, but I suspect they aren't itching to have a rematch Belfort and Silva.
That leaves Boetsch and Belcher in very enviable positions. Big wins tonight could put them on a collision course with one another or perhaps the returning Weidman. Either way, the key consideration is that nothing in middleweight title futures are written in stone. Tonight is an opportunity to write the future.
Philippou and Okami are in very different positions. For 'Thunder', it's a chance to stay relevant. Belcher is on the way up with a ton of hype and momentum. Derailing him reaffirms Okami as a top middleweight even after losses to Boetsch, Silva and a mediocre win at UFC 150. Philippou, on the other hand, is facing a no-lose scenario tonight. He's filling in on short notice against an opponent he can beat, but one whose position in the middleweight queue put him previously out of reach. Losing isn't a non-issue, but it isn't a career killer at all for Philippou. Besides, he says he needs a lot more wins before he even thinks about challenging the middleweight king. And a win? It's hard to imagine a way a better way to fast forward up the middleweight ladder than a win in a situation he faces with evening.
At stake: main card relevancy. I don't know that it's cruel to suggest neither fighter has much chance at contending for a middleweight title. They aren't bad fighters, by any stretch. They're capable of serving any number of roles, but the most important consideration for each of them in this bout is to win impressively enough to merit future fights on main cards against other fighters of notable significance. For Brunson, coming over from Strikeforce and sticking it to a well-known TUF 1 veteran could do wonders. Likewise, Leben returning from a drug suspension while battling with addiction and yet capable of winning impressively is no small matter. Big wins generally mean better fights on bigger stages going forward. That's nothing to look past.